Tuesday, April 12, 2011

France Enforces Its "Burqa Ban" Starting April 11, 2011: Part II Reactions in France, Europe, and MENA

Kenza Drider, a French Muslim from Avignon and an activist in favour of the right to wear the niqab,one of a dozen women protesting in front of the Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris on April 11, 2011, and one of 2 arrested for holding a demonstration without a permit.

As with prior discussions about the potential for a "burqa ban" in France, and its legislation, there has been much reporting and commentary both within and without France. What follows is a mere sampling. For details on the law, see Part I, for the political context of the law, see this previous post.

Reactions in France

All of the major French papers have reported and commented on the day of the ban's enforcement. In one article, Le Monde emphasizes that police agencies across the country decry the law as unenforceable and unnecessary. Its opposite, Le Figaro, also notes the formal police statement that the law is unenforceable, and the Minister of the Interior's response that it will be enforced anyway.

(REUTERS/Jean-Paul Pelissier)

A number of others (Le Nouvel Observateur, France 20 minutes, Europe 1 France, Le Parisien) reported on the demonstration in front of Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris, and the arrests of 2 women, including Kenza Drider, a French Muslim from Avignon, who has been wearing the veil for 13 years, seen above arriving at the Gare de Lyon in Paris, and below at the demonstration.


Today, April 12 there are reports (France Soir, AFP, Le Figaro) of women arrested for wearing the face veil in places outside Paris, one in Saint Denis (given a warning, and reminder of the law), the other in Yvelines (fined 150 Euros, ie the maximum). The latter is a 28-year-old French woman who insisted she is wearing the niqab of her own volition.

The following article from the BBC represents the views of people living or working in Barbès, a neighbourhood of Paris with a very high North African Muslim population. Among the other interesting aspects of the article is the paucity of women wearing the niqab, even in such a neighbourhood. Another major issue is that of the problems in the government housing in ghetto-ized suburbs of Paris. In fact, reliable sociological studies show that these are problems of  poverty, isolation, hopelessness, and exclusion from French society rather than ethnic or religious choices.


Ban on Muslim women covering faces with veils in France
Page last updated at 05:57 GMT, Monday, 11 April 2011 06:57 UK
By Nomia Iqbal
Newsbeat reporter in Paris

From today (11 April) it is illegal for Muslim women in France to cover their faces with veils in public.

It's the first European country to pass the law but there's been criticism that it's pointless because only a minority of women wear them.

Any woman caught wearing the burka or niqab faces a fine and will be asked to take citizenship lessons. She can also be subject to an investigation.

If police find her husband is forcing her to cover up, he could face a fine of 25,000 euros (£22,000) and a possible jail sentence.

Many Algerians, Moroccans and Tunisians live in Barbès, Paris

In the 18th district of Paris, is Barbès. There is a strong Muslim community that lives there, made up of people of Algerian, Moroccan and Tunisian descent.

France is home to western Europe's largest Muslim population of six million.

Out of that, the number that wear the burka or niqab differs, depending on who you ask.

Hadjou owns an Islamic clothes shop in the district.

"Selling the niqab is bad for business," he said. "Not many women wear it or ask for it.

"I've probably sold about five in a year."

Ahmed who runs a small business near one of the district's mosques says he rarely sees women covered up and that was before this ban.

"I'd say probably 0.01% of Muslim women wear the niqab," he admitted.

The French government thinks that figure is much higher. Ministers put it at around 2,000 women.

Ahmed said he didn't think that was true: "That's not possible, but even if it's true, it's only a minority that wear it. So what?"

'Ghettos'

For some, Muslim women wearing veils is a problem.

The interior minister Claude Guéant has been accused of Islamophobia after saying the growing population of Muslims in the country "poses problems".

The French government says they encourage segregation and promote the inequality of women.

Sihem Habchi, a Muslim woman who has worked with the government on the ban, agrees.

"It's because it's a minority we need to act," she said.

"Five years ago hardly anyone wore the niqab.

"In another five years we will be like England where there are neighbourhoods and ghettos full of women wearing them."

It is in the banlieues where the government believes this problem is growing.

They are France's version of council estates located about 35 minutes away from central Paris.

In 2005 riots were triggered among angry young people after two teenagers died in Clichy-sous-Bois, a poor area in an eastern suburb of Paris.

They blamed police for causing it and many feel that persecution is still going on.


Yasmine Diallo, 21

"If Mr Sarkozy wants to help people in the suburban areas, why not create better jobs, provide better housing.

"Removing the veil won't change anything.

"There are people who don't cover up and they're still struggling. Hardly anyone wears this.

"If anything, banning it will probably make more women wear it."


Billal Chegar, 25

"This is all about politics.

"It's nothing to do with us normal French people.

"It's something the government has decided and we have no say.

"I believe in freedom of religion and this is a dangerous thing that's happening."


Abdelkrim Branine, 30

"I'm not for the burka or the niqab but I believe in wearing what you want. This law is not needed.

"All it does is stigmatises French Muslims and is all about getting votes next year.

"The government doesn't have a program to help poor people so instead they've decided to blame Muslims.

"It only affects a minority of women and won't make any difference."


Florien, 18

"I think everyone is free and should be allowed to wear what they want. It's a very difficult debate.

"I don't agree with the burka or niqab but I don't believe in this ban."

[*The BBC has also published 2 excellent background articles: The Islamic veil across Europe, published April 11, 2011, on the legal standing of the Islamic veil in different European countries; Viewpoints: Anti-Muslim prejudice in Europe, published January 21, 2011, on the social acceptability of Anti-Muslim prejudice in different European countries, as reported by academics from each country].

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Reactions in other European Countries

Some interesting articles from Britain and Spain:

Agnès Poirier: This excessive law tempts me to put a veil on myself--How will the French police proceed in dealing with a law that they say is unworkable?

The absence of evidence for banning burqas: Are arguments in favour of the French ban supported by any actual evidence, and what happens when we ban burqas anyway?

Behind the burqa ban's reasoning: France's burqa ban may be based on a different idea of necessary morality, but Britain is in no position to point and hoot

El modelo francés no sirve by Oxford Chair in European Studies, Timothy Garton Ash, on how the French model is unhelpful in solving the challenges of integration

Francia estrena el veto al 'burka' con protestas y detenciones Summarizes the events of April 11, and repeats the problem French police have with the law's enforceability

Los musulmanes en España: 'Sarkozy utiliza el islam como moneda electoral'
Describes the reaction on the part of Spanish Muslims, who believe Sarkozy is using the law for electoral gains.

Reactions in the US

Two American-based Muslim women, Heba Ahmed and Mona Eltahawy, present their reactions to the French burqa ban from opposite ends of the spectrum on the CNN program In the Arena with Elliot Spitzer moderating. Good points are made by all three.

Ultimately, I agree with Spitzer: the ban is unique in regulating the religious dress of one specific group, and while one may not agree with the wearing of the face veil, one cannot impose such a ban as a point of law; and, where there is imposition on Muslim women as a form of abuse, there are other mechanisms to deal with that. I also agree that Mona Eltawahy's "facts" are overreaching, ideological, and personalized. Her catch phrase about agreeing with the racist French right wing to counter the misogynist Islamic right wing, makes for a good sound bite. However, it is based on faulty logic, and a failure to consider the longterm consequences for the French, men and women of all faiths, of such an attitude.

I disagree though with Heba Ahmed's argument about wearing the niqab to make a statement against Western forms of oppressive norms on women's bodies--eating disorders are far more complex, for a start). I also disagree with her that the niqab draws attention to a woman's mind--it draws attention to the niqab, especially in the West. Many assume a woman wearing a niqab has no mind of her own anyway, or at least not a sane, nuanced, thinking one.


The Huffington Post has a number of articles, and the New York Times weighs in with "Government-Enforced Bigotry in France". The Christian Science Monitor includes the French Burqa Ban as one of the 5 ways that Europe is targetting Islam, the others (click next at the top of the main article) being the Belgian Burqa Ban, the Swiss Minarets Ban, the Dutch Burqa Ban, and the British sidelining of the creation of the London "mega-mosque".

Reactions in Saudi Arabia

An unidentified veiled woman [Drider] is taken away by police for questioning in Paris on Monday. (AP)

Mixed reaction to French niqab ban
By MARIAM NIHAL | ARAB NEWS

Published: Apr 12, 2011 00:34 Updated: Apr 12, 2011 00:39

JEDDAH: There was mixed reaction among women in the Kingdom to a ban on niqab that went into effect in France on Monday.

Paris police arrested two veiled women and several other people protesting in front of Notre Dame cathedral against the new law. On Saturday, 59 people were arrested, including 19 veiled women, during a banned protest in Paris against the new law.

Under the law, anyone refusing to lift a veil for an identity check can be persuaded to remove the garment at a police station. A woman who is defiant and insists on appearing veiled in public can be fined 150 euros ($216) and will be ordered to attend re-education classes.

Samia Abdullah, a 24-year-old journalist in Jeddah, was indignant: “Doesn’t France have freedom of religion in its law structure? There should be freedom to practice every religion and I do not see a reason behind this infuriating racial profiling.”

Thirty-year-old Sarah Kazim, a housewife, believes everyone should respect the law of the land. “If women are made to dress a different way and wear their hijab in Saudi Arabia and we respect it, then we should respect the laws of the French constitution. Why treat them differently when we have laws that are most distinct to any other country?”

Reema Jabak, a 27-year-old teacher, said: “It is understandable they want to eliminate any security threats, except that they should have security check points to search women wearing a veil, not ban their right to practice their religious beliefs altogether.”

Marketing executive Seema Nahdi, 35, warned against overreaction. “There is an identity crisis with the veil, you do not know who you are facing. It could be a man disguised or a potential threat. It is a different paradigm. People need to look at it from a political perspective and not strain it with emotional melodrama,” she said.

Samah Ahmed, a 42-year-old mother in Riyadh, was outraged. She called the ban blasphemy. “How dare they take away our right to protect and practice our religion? Yes, this means my daughters cannot travel to France anymore but that is fine. We will not bow down to the injustice they dole out to us. It is time they treat women with respect,” she said.

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Reactions in Other MENA Countries

Aside from the article above, from Saudi Arabia, I found little except for minor recountings of the day in the major papers or country based news sites. An exception was the following article from Gulf News, on the response in the UAE, Niqab is not obligatory in Islam, scholars say; West should practise what it preaches and give Muslim women freedom to wear face veils, experts say.

Image Credit: Guillermo F. Munro/Gulf News

Your comments, thoughts, impressions?
Any interesting links you found in national or international news sites?

Related Posts:
Why, even if you hate the niqab, you should hate the French "burqa ban" more
France and the Niqab/Burka Ban Revisited: The Doha Debates Chez Chiara
France Enforces Its "Burqa Ban" Starting April 11, 2011: Part I The Law
France Enforces Its "Burqa Ban" Starting April 11, 2011: Part III Et tu, Canada?--upcoming

One of 2 women arrested April 11, 2011, in front of Notre Dame Cathedral (France Soir, S/PA).
As of this posting 7 women in France had been arrested.

7 comments:

Wendy said...

I'm happy it's banned. Congratulations to France and Belgium for putting the ban in place. I wish Canada would do the same. It should have nothing to do with women's rights. It has everything to do with security and my right to be able to see the face of other citizens around me on the street, in a bank, in a store or wherever the heck I am. It is not a religious requirement and if one feels that strongly about it then live in a country where the niqab is accepted. Wear a hijab, abaya, turban, sari, skull cap or whatever you want to wear but leave the face uncovered.

jaraad said...

Since this law includes tourists as well, I wonder how this law will affect on tourism coming from the Gulf countries.

Wendy, you mentioned that this is about security more than about women's rights. If so, how about those days when women and men are allowed to cover their faces, during traditional festivals? Also, some people don't feel safe seeing someone covering his/her face with tattoos and pierces should we ban those as well?

Wendy said...

Of course not. Tattoos do not hide the face. Wearing a mask at a traditional festival has absolutely nothing to do with normal everyday life such as walking on the street, shopping, going to a bank, etc., either. We're not talking about being afraid of a face - it's about NOT seeing it.
Now as I understand it the niqab is supposedly banned for women doing Haj for security reasons!!! I also understand there is no true religious reason for the niqab.

countrygirl said...

well done France, i'm wondering how many women are forced to wear nijab, how many of them are brainwashed in wearing it? few months ago in Italy one woman wearing the nijab was fined here in Italy and HER husband say now i CAN'T let my wife going outside out home...so it's her choice to wear the nijab or her husband's.

During carnival i can wear a mask, cover my face but it's only for a few hoursm that's it.

When i enter in a bank if i wear a helmet (for security thing)i must take it off why if someone ask the same thing to a womane who wears the nijab she will scream islamophobia!

I've read some blog of italian converts who wear the nijab and i have only one word SCARY...it seems that thar they hit format to their brain when they converted, they seems like members of a cult who completely forget who they were or their background.

In the majoirty part of the world people are used to see the face of the people we are talking to and i must admit i would be very ill at ease if i had to speak with a woman wearing the nijab.

i've read some interview with french women who wears the nijab and they said that they will obey the french laws UNLESS it's against the islamic law...IMHO if you want to follow islamic law go to KSA not here.

Some say that they wear the nijab because the want to be modest but in the western world anyone who wears it is like a sore thumb the idea of modesty is gone to hell since she will stand out among others women.

oby said...

I am glad it was banned. And I actually read some Muslim women who were for the ban...interesting. One woman, a saudi, said it best I thought.

She said that "in Saudi we require women to cover their face...it is our law and custom. When we are in someone else's country we must abide by their laws and respect the customs. It is the right thing to do." Hoooray!!!! for her. But I also wondered if she had the chance to get rid of the niqab if she would. She seemed not to be too upset about the whole thing.

Susanne said...

I agree with what you said about Heba's comment that wearing niqab makes people deal with her mind rather than body. I watched the video the other day and while I thought she was very articulate, I was distracted the whole time by watching her curtain go in as she breathed. I just couldn't take her that seriously due to my being fascinated (?!) by her niqab.

I like seeing people's faces when we are talking. Maybe this is why I dislike the telephone so much.

Majed said...

Due to Guilt about few things I wrote in a previous comment, I was thinking of taking a long hike on commenting,but then I thought I am just humble human being who makes mistakes,so what.

Yes Europe has evolved in certain areas, but still stuck in muds of Europe `s dark ages in others, like the race and religion issues, though they have been to places and seen people ,but it gives the creeps to see those people in their homeland, they only want to have uniform societies, different colors,cultures,mentalities,religions are equations too sophisticated for the European brain to process,if they don't like, don't understand,hate, don't feel comfortable with a thing or things, so other should not have the right or choice to do it, and must feel the same about it ,and, if they don't like it that way they should leave and go to Saudi Arabia, Saudis (right or wrong) make less than 1% of all Muslims, somewhat like the Vatican,we can not say that all Christians should leave to the Vatican you can not boil down all Muslims to Saudi Arabia that is so childish.

The ban is stupid, because it ended, call it a debate or dialogue that might have been very fruitful on Burqa, by a Papal decree (law)which decided that Christianity wins,by the way carnivals are the occasions of choice for terrorists as it maximizes casualties must be a huge (security concern)

I think neither muslims nor non Muslims should have any restrict say on what is required or not required by Islam, Islam is very flexible, that is if you ask three scholars about a certain issue, it is very likely that you will get three different opinions with non of them assuring you to be the final word on it. You have either to follow one of them,or make a crazy dish for yourself of them all with sticking to the BASIC INGREDIENTS, but you can not tell people that only your way will take them to Rome.

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